Today, I'm pleased to welcome S.C. Green to talk about her steampunk dark fantasy release, The Sunken.
I like to begin a book by discovering the environment. It is only when I begin inserting characters into that environment that the story itself begins to emerge. (After all, if you stick the same character in a Vietnam POW camp and a spaceship stranded in space with only enough air left for one of the two inhabitants, you're going to end up with two very different stories). As an ex-archaeologist who has studied anthropology extensively, I believe that human culture, social organisation and behaviour is inherently linked to their environment. Change the environment and you fundamentally change aspects of society, of culture, of technology, of belief.
In the world of the Engine Ward, I go back to Georgian England, a nation on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution. But this is a world that has followed a different timeline from the one you and I live in, starting all the way back in the Cretaceous age.
What if dinosaurs have never become extinct? How would sharing the earth with such creatures shape human history? That was the first question I sought to answer when I started work on The Sunken.
I knew I wanted dinosaurs to be living in Georgian England. How? Well, I figured that ice ages had probably killed off many of the larger species, but that other, smaller species had either survived or evolved. I researched the types of dinosaurs that had been living in England when it was attached to a larger landmass, and the environments that those creatures inhabited. I calculated that environments in England would have evolved slightly differently – in the Engine Ward series; most of the Southwest of England is an uninhabited swampland.
Humans would settle in specific areas they could easily defend from predators, and build villages and settlements around their farms and businesses. Some of these animals would be utilised for work, (in later books in the series, you will meet "neckers" – long-necked sauropods about the size of horses – pulling carts and farm equipment). Other dinosaurs might be farmed or hunted for their meat, ivory or skin. Some, such as the tricorn, had been hunted so extensively they are believed to be extinct. Some, like the compies, were tiny and invaded food stores and chewed machinery. And then there are the swamp dragons; highly dangerous carnivores that would need to be avoided.
And, perhaps most important to my story, human mythology would be drastically altered. Think of the different meanings ancient tales take on when there really are dragons living in the swamps outside your back door? I imagine people would cling to these old stories and that, when science and engineering started to offer a new view of the world – a view that humans could control and manipulate and create it how they wanted – this would be extremely appealing. Science gives humans agency in a world that had for centuries been controlled by monsters.
And so, the engineering sects were born – religions focused around innovation and scientific method and the resourcefulness of man. The sects have been part of the religious makeup of England for some time – some are based on ancient cults (such as the cult of Isis), while others are deities created as personifications of scientific disciplines (like the Aether sect, which is primarily focused on chemistry). But it isn't till King George III outlawed Christianity – the prevailing religion of Europe – and adopted ten of the Industrian cults as the official religions of England, that things get really interesting.
And at the centre of the new religion is the Engine Ward, a district in London dedicated to all the studies of engineering and science. Here, the sects build great churches and shrines to their gods, and here are the factories and laboratories where scientists and engineers work on their creations. Here, too, are the great underground furnaces that power the Ward, and the Stokers – the furnace workers – who keep the fires constantly lit. It is in this district shrouded in coal dust that I decided to drop my main characters, just to see what would happen next.
What did happen? Well, you can find out in the Engine Ward series. Book one, The Sunken, is out now, and book two, called The Gauge War, will be out early next year. You can sign up to my mailing list to be one of the first to get a copy, or just keep an eye out on my blog.
Title: The Sunken
Genre:Steampunk Dark Fantasy
In the heart of London lies the Engine Ward, a district forged in coal and steam, where the great Engineering Sects vie for ultimate control of the country. For many, the Ward is a forbidding, desolate place, but for Nicholas Thorne, the Ward is a refuge. He has returned to London under a cloud of shadow to work for his childhood friend, the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Deep in the Ward's bowels, Nicholas can finally escape his strange affliction – the thoughts of animals that crowd his head. But seeing Brunel interact with his mechanical creations, Nicholas is increasingly concerned that his friend may be succumbing to the allure of his growing power. That power isn't easily cast aside, and the people of London need Brunel to protect the streets from the prehistoric monsters that roam the city.
King George III has approved Brunel's ambitious plan to erect a Wall that would shut out the swamp dragons and protect the city. But in secret, the King cultivates an army of Sunken: men twisted into flesh-eating monsters by a thirst for blood and lead. Only Nicholas and Brunel suspect that something is wrong, that the Wall might play into a more sinister purpose--to keep the people of London trapped inside.
James Holman's Memoirs — Unpublished
The history books — the thick sort written by real historians — will tell you England's troubles began when Isambard Kingdom Brunel knocked Robert Stephenson from the post of Messiah of the Sect of the Great Conductor, and became overnight the most powerful engineer in England. But they do not have the full story.
The true origin began many years before that, with George III — the Vampire King — and the damage wrought by his naval defeats, and his madness. His depravity might have been held in check were it not for a mild spring afternoon in 1830, when a dragon wandered into Kensington Gardens and ate two women and a Grenadier Guard.
I happened to witness this occurrence, although witness, my critics would say, is a word I am not permitted to use, on account of my complete blindness. I had been granted a day's leave from my duties at Windsor Castle to come into the city. In my left hand, I clutched two envelopes. One contained a thick, pleading letter to my publisher, written on my Noctograph in large, loopy letters to arouse their sympathies, humbly requesting a payment for royalties due on my book. The second contained a request for a period of extended leave to travel to Europe, addressed to the Duke and signed by my doctor. In my other hand, I held the brass ball atop my walking stick, rapping the pavement and listening for the echoes whenever I felt myself veer from my path.
I arrived at the offices of F., C., and J. Rivington, my publishers, a little after four, and was surprised to find their offices empty, the door locked, and no one about. I ran my fingers over the door, but could find no notice. Perhaps they had taken an extended luncheon? I sniffed the air, remembering the delicious pie shop on the corner beneath the barbershop. Yes, perhaps I should look for them there.
I had no sooner taken a step across the street, my mouth watering with the anticipation of pie, when coach bells jangled, whistles blew, hooves thundered, and a great commotion rumbled down the street — a carriage speeding over the cobbles, the inhabitants crying out as they were flung back in their seats. I yanked my boot back just as the carriage screamed past and several Bobbies blew their whistles at me. Boots pounded along the street as the usual gaggle of reporters, thrill-seekers, and layabouts chased after the carriage, anxious to see the cause of the commotion.
Of course, being somewhat of a thrill-seeker myself, I shoved the letters into my jacket pocket and followed. I didn't need my stick to follow the sound of the carriage, and I fell in step amongst the crowd and allowed the jostles of the nosy to pull me along. I collected details in my mental map — a right turn here, a left there, the rough cobbles giving way to silken lawn and neat, paved paths. We'd entered Kensington Gardens, tearing through the squared hedges of close-cropped yew and prim holly, cut and shaped to mimic the bastions and fortifications of war. Hydrangea and rose perfumes drifted on the breeze, until the coo of songbirds was interrupted by piercing screams as women scuttled between the hedges, looking for a place to hide.
Then, I heard the roar.
The sound was so low it shook my insides about, so my organs felt as though they had sunk into my socks. The crowd around me, only moments ago hell-bent on moving forward in search of the commotion, scattered in fear, diving into the trees flanking the Round Pond and leaving me in the centre of the path to confront the scene before me.
Though I could only hear and not see what unfolded, the vivid accounts read aloud to me by friends from the papers allow me to picture it now as clearly as anything. A female swamp-dragon (Megalosaurusbucklandii, in the new taxonomy) appeared from nowhere beside the Round Pond, obviously in need of a drink. She bent down, fifteen feet of her, to lap at the water with her thick tongue, her leathery green skin catching the midday sun. The gentlemen who had been preparing to launch their boats on the water scattered, but their women were busy setting up the picnic tables and laying out the tea settings, and did not notice the commotion until the beast was upon them.
A woman cowered under her table, clutching a crying baby and trying to muffle its sobs beneath her skirt. But the dragon — like me — saw the world with her ears. She drove her wide snout under the table and tore at the unfortunate woman, tearing out her pretty arms and staining her dress with blood.
Crème scones and Wedgewood china flew through the air as the beast charged the picnic tables, snapping up morsels of womanly flesh. The screams brought more bystanders — lovers strolling along the Serpentine, the Royal Horticultural Society, who'd been admiring the hydrangea beds, and, finally, a nearby guard on duty with his shiny blunderbuss.
The shots rang in my ears for several moments, and I leaned on my stick, suddenly blinded to the world around me. The ground trembled as feet thundered past, and I turned to move after them, but a voice broke through my panic.
"You sir, don't move!"
I froze. Now I heard the hiss of air escaping the dragon's nostril, and the click of its claws as it stalked across the garden path toward me. The air grew hot, carrying with it the smell of butchery — blood and flesh mingled with the beast's fetid breath. At any moment it would be upon me. The panic rose in my throat, and I fought the urge to run.
Steff lives in an off-grid house on a slice of rural paradise near Auckland, New Zealand, with her cantankerous drummer husband, their two cats, and their medieval sword collection. The first CD she ever brought was Metallica's 'Ride the Lightning', and she's been a card-carrying member of the black-t-shirt brigade ever since.
Steff writes about metal music, her books, living off-grid, and her adventures with home-brewing on her blog www.steffmetal.com. She writes humorous fantasy under the name Steff Metal, and dark, dystopian fantasy under S. C. Green. Her latest novel, The Sunken, explores an alternative Georgian London where dinosaurs still survive.